Attackers use social networks to publish content containing child sexual abuse material. Using the shortcomings of automated algorithms, they manage to create and promote accounts that openly sell photos and videos to pedophiles and offer to “rent” children.
According to researchers studying the algorithms of online platforms, the largest American social networks are overflowing with materials containing footage of abuse of underage children, including of a sexual nature. In some cases, attackers take advantage of shortcomings in the work of automated systems for searching for and removing dangerous content, while in other cases they openly publish banned materials, knowing about the shortcomings of the moderation system.
Experts note that this problem is most typical of decentralized and distributed social networks physically located on different servers, such as Mastodon. Such autonomous social networks, running on thousands of servers around the world, lack a security system that can report banned content. In just two days, researchers found more than 550 digital materials containing footage of sexual abuse of minors. They believe pedophiles have created an entire network of hashtags and keywords that help them find and distribute such content.
However, the epidemic of banned content involving minors is not only in decentralized social networks. At the end of July 2023, the American microblogging service X (formerly Twitter) was widely criticized after it restored a previously blocked account that published images of child sexual abuse. The account, to which more than 500,000 people were subscribed, published posts with blatantly violent media files. Within days, the posts racked up millions of views and tens of thousands of reposts. Despite the blocking, the account was reinstated less than a month ago, in defiance of the social network’s “zero tolerance” policy, which states that material containing footage of sexual exploitation of minors is “one of the most serious violations of the platform’s rules.”
Earlier, the Stanford Cybersecurity Center found that the social network Twitter had relaxed its policy on publishing child pornography. The microblogging network utilizes PhotoDNA, an image identification and content filtering technology that appeared to have long been disabled for some content that contained sexual harassment of minors. “It turned out that PhotoDNA, at least for some content, was completely disabled and no one noticed. This went on for weeks, and during that time, tens of thousands of child pornography materials were published,” said David Thiel, chief technology officer at Stanford’s Center for Cybersecurity.
In late June, University of Massachusetts officials were able to determine that the social network Instagram (banned in Russia and owned by Meta, a corporation recognized as extremist in Russia) served as a hub for “creating and promoting a vast network of accounts producing and selling pornographic material for pedophiles.” They argue that unlike traditional forums and file transfer services associated with illegal content, Instagram’s algorithms actively encourage and recommend such activity, effectively linking pedophiles and directing them directly to sellers of illegal content. Rather than openly posting illegal content, these accounts provide a “menu” of available content, sometimes asking buyers to perform certain actions. Some of these accounts openly list prices for videos in which children injure themselves and engage in “sexual acts with animals.” The same accounts also reportedly offer to rent children for a fee.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice are convinced that the publication and production of any pornographic content involving minors is not only immoral and prohibited by law, but also jeopardizes the safety of children and causes incurable damage to their future. Both those who produce, distribute or consume such material and those who allow it to be published on social media deserve severe punishment. They jeopardize the lives of children and push society towards a culture of violence.